The things that every seasoned missionary parent has told me have come true: the first year passes like molasses.
You miss that young man of yours more than you ever thought could be humanly possible.
Then, as the long months start to melt away, you start to wonder if there really is a real boy who you once scolded and hugged and taught and learned from because he’s been gone so long you can hardly remember the lines in his face, how huge his hands are, how he fidgets with his hair and t-shirts and how quickly he can make his sisters’ faces light up.
But you don’t forget his smile. Because it is there, beaming at you from the computer screen surrounded by people he loves that you have never met. And their smiles smile back.
And there is something about all those smiling faces that makes your heart cinch up and soften all at the same time. It misses that boy more than ever, yet it is so incredibly overflowing with gratitude that he is there.
Not at your side.
Because he’s learning things he could never learn anywhere else.
Then you get in the swing of things.
You get the letters down to a science (even though you leave every Sunday night wanting more since he is still not a man of many words). You learn names of faceless people you pray your guts out for as your son falls in love with them and their families. You try to picture how that once-so-shy child of yours looks talking to strangers on street corners and teaching lessons to other missionaries as their leader. You think of his mission president who is guiding him with so much love, and the other missionaries he is learning so many good things from. And the people. Always the people. His family away from his family.
Gratitude mounts and multiplies like never before.
And then suddenly there’s just a little over four months left.
And at the same time as you can almost feel that hug you’ll get so soon, you wonder: has he learned the things he’s supposed to learn? Has he found the people who are searching for the light he wants to share? Has he gleaned from the light they are willing to share? Is he truly happy? Does he know how precious these last months are?
And then you get a letter like the one we got last week, and you are reassured once again, he is in the right place. At the right time. And he realizes more than anyone else in the whole wide world how lucky he is to be right there. Right now.
This is what he wrote in response to Dave’s question as to what has brought him most joy on his mission:
I feel like every day is just super joyful honestly like every day when we ride our bikes home at night i just spread out my arms and close my eyes and just soak it all in with the wind and everything and think about how great life is.
Made my eyes well up with so much emotion.
In response to how his clothes are holding up:
I should be good. My clothes are all falling apart but I should make it work for the next little bit. I lost my beloved pair of slip on leather shoes this week (the sole came off), but I have another pair that will get me through.
In response to Dave’s question about how weird he is (missionaries live in such an interesting environment where obedience is so important and beautifully learned, but sometimes it takes a little to adjust when they get home ;):
I honestly have no idea if I am weird or not …I can tell that my sense of humor has gotten better tho. I crack myself up haha
(I have to say on a side-note that I loved Dave’s letter just as much as Max’s…he’s such a great Dad.)
When you hear that kid of yours who is so dang happy you realize that it’s really ok that he’s not going to be home in time for Christmas. Or school. Or anything else for that matter. Because he’s at the most golden time of that mission.
Sure, there have been lows along with the highs. This kid has struggled with all kinds of things through the last year and a half right alongside all the joys. As you can imagine, living in a foreign country with complete strangers speaking a foreign (tough!) language in a vastly different culture makes for some rocky times. Many feelings of insecurity, I’m sure some homesickness, sorrow and despair have surely been paired along with the wonders. Missions are tough. There’s no doubt about it. But I believe with my whole heart that those things: the despair and the sorrow, are exactly what makes the joys and the triumphs so incredibly wonderful. Without the lows all the wonder would be tough to recognize so beautifully.
Yes, what all those missionary parents said was so true: the beginning is slow and the end whizzes by. Before we know it he will be home. That boy we adore who’s details have become so fuzzy will be here, clear as day, filling up our space and emptying the refrigerator, and taking on all the hugs he’s going to be smothered with.
And we cannot wait.
But there is an interesting sense of wanting, paired with the missing, to stretch out those last few months, hoping their golden-ness will stretch and build and provide opportunities in a way that will help him finish off in the best possible way. Praying the last months continue to mold him into the kind of kid he truly wants to become. And that they mold him, pointing him toward the person God knows he can eventually become. Oh, and even more importantly, that he finds those who want to listen to his message, and that that message will change them and help bring them more happiness than they could imagine. And that he will listen to and learn from their hearts as he shares his own.
He’s sure working on it!